For a team that sits 8-6, there is a lot of deserved, understandable anxiety in Raptor land. For all the talk of the power forward spot, the struggles in crunch time, the health of DeMarre Carroll, all of which are serious, the play of Cory Joseph has been far better than anyone expected when the Raptors signed him this summer.
On the surface and below, Cory Joseph has been nothing short of fantastic for the Raptors. His averages of 9.7 PPG, 3.1 APG, 2.8 RPG in 25 minutes of playing time are right in line with his per-36 numbers in his past two years with the Spurs. That he's been able to not just maintain, but increase his efficiency pushed into a higher role is good, but it's fair to have concerns about long-term sustainability.
The underlying statistics are even more ridiculous. Joseph has been the 2nd best player in the entire league in shots within 5 feet of the rim, at a 71.4% clip. He's the only guard in the top 15 of FG% at a ridiculous 56.6%. The TS% of 64% is flat out ridiculous too, even higher than TS-king Jonas Valanciunas' 62%.
Joseph's shot profile is eerily similar to Tony Parker's in San Antonio. Not many 3's, lethal mid-range and automatic at the rim. It's fair to expect Joseph to stay above 50% from the field, like he has for the entirety of his career, even with the increased usage.
Looking deeper into the numbers though, there are reasons to believe his contributions to the team are unsustainable. Simply put, he's being put in unfair situations and he's being asked to do it all on his own. A whopping 82% of his FGs are unassisted. A relatively large 18% of his shots further than ten feet from the rim are tightly covered and he's still managing to shoot 53% in those situations. Over 80% of his shots come after he's held the ball for at least two seconds. And 70% of his shots come after at least three dribbles. When you consider the ridiculous circumstances in which he's being forced to shoot, it's astounding that his FG% is that high.
There's a reason for this -- Joseph is being used as a safety valve for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. He's essentially the garbage man initiating the offence when Lowry and/or DeRozan need to rest and play off-ball. His job is to milk the shot clock, and if a play doesn't develop, create some offence some way, somehow. Joseph ranks 4th in the entire league in dribbles per touch. 30% of his shots come with less than 7 seconds left on the shot clock, compared to ~20% for Lowry and DeRozan. Watch the putrid offence below:
The two players Joseph spends the most time on the floor with besides DeRozan and Lowry? Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo, with one or both on the floor for over half his minutes. Thats about as much of a pu-pu platter of offensive creativity as a player can be handed.
Here's the thing - thus far this season, Joseph's been efficient from virtually every single undesirable situation. His is the most thankless job on this team, much like Amir Johnson in years past. He handles the ball to give the high-usage guys a break, and finds efficient offence when the team's lack of creativity shines through. The Raptors are better with him on the floor on offence and defence.
Joseph's numbers will come down, I'm reasonably confident about that. When they do, let's keep in mind what a damn job he's been doing for this team, and what he'd be capable of in an efficient offence that put him in better circumstances. That 4-year, $30 million contract looks like a hell of a bargain.
*All stats from NBA.com, Basketball Reference, NBAWowy, and Vorped